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End this nonsense

RICHARD MORRIS

Lock Haven

We must keep a very watchful eye on the work of the state Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee’s forensic audit of the 2020 election.

Its objectives are unclear and its methods are suspect.

Its first public hearing descended onto farce and at its second it voted to subpoena from the Department of State the personal information of over 9.5 million registered voters, some 6.9 million of whom voted in the 2020 election.

It remains to be seen how the department will respond because, although the Commonwealth is required by statute to maintain the State Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE), the records themselves are the property of the individual counties.

Therefore it is unclear whether the Department of State can simply pre-empt the permission of the counties by handing over these records.

Furthermore, the security of the records is a cause for concern.

The Department is instructed to deliver them to the General Counsel of the Senate Republican Caucus, not to the Committee that requested them, and they will apparently thereafter be made available to outside contractors, to be appointed by the Chairman of the Committee, for purposes that he and they will determine.

The chairman has so far declined to identify to the Committee any possible contractors and no scope of work has been agreed by the Committee.

None of that smells good — but so far all the work of the Committee has carried an odor of hypocrisy.

The Chairman, 25th District Sen. Cris Dush (who has the air of someone who would rather be standing in a bucket of boiling water), insists that the objective of the audit is to “examine intensely” the conduct of the 2020 election and determine whether there were issues that should be cured by new legislation.

However, several of his Republican colleagues keep remarking that their constituents “have questions” that the Committee should answer.

So you would think that the obvious first step would be to read sine of those questions into the record.

None have been.

However, at its first public hearing the Committee was treated to testimony from Commissioner Stewart Ulsh of Fulton County about the confusion caused by last minute guidance from the Secretary of State on the handling of mail in ballots.

It was immediately obvious that it would not take much to confuse Commissioner Ulsh, but when questioned he was unable to give any examples of this confusion other than the “unusual” event of having a telephone conversation with the Secretary herself — which committee member Sen. Kim Ward described as “odd.”

What neither the Senator nor the Commissioner revealed to the Committee was the fact the the Director of Elections for the county had been appointed just two months before the election after 27 years as a Licensed Practical Nurse and two years in food service management.

So her experience was light and her learning curve steep. So it is neither unusual nor odd that the Secretary would take steps to ensure that the county — small though it is with only around 9,000 voters — was not overwhelmed.

Fulton County’s election results were audited by an outside company shortly after the election.

Fulton was the Trumpiest county in the Commonwealth and the only reason Commissioner Ulsh could give for the audit was that he wanted to be sure “everything was done properly.”

Under questioning, he evaded confirming that the audit was suggested to him by Senators Ward and Doug Mastriano and claimed to have no knowledge of how the audit was paid for, stating that that information was contained in the audit report.

It is not.

At one point we had to watch the ridiculous spectacle of Mr. Ulsh trying to bring up a 93 page report on his smart phone to look for something he knew wasn’t there.

The Committee seems to be fishing in waters already trawled by others.

The State Government Committee already did a “deep dive” into the last election and the Special Committee on Election Integrity’s examination generated legislation that included almost everything that testifiers to the Committee had asked for.

However it also included a voter ID provision that no-one had asked for and that the Commonwealth Court had declared unconstitutional nine years earlier. The Governor was obliged to veto it.

Moreover, much of the work of the Committee will become moot if Commissioner Doug McKlinko of Bradford County succeeds in his attempt to have Act 77 — which authorized mail-in ballots — declared unconstitutional.

It is a deliberately late challenge designed to ensure that mail-in voting would not be available for the 2024 presidential election.

Nothing good can come from any of this.

There were flaws and uncertainties in the 2020 election that can be cured by legislation free from toxic spoilers such as voter ID.

The SURE system that we all know is creaky is scheduled to be replaced early next year which will give greater confidence — if any were needed — that only bona fide voters are registered and enabled to vote.

Further grubbing around in the last election therefore serves no purpose other than to continue to undermine our election process.

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